File photo from the 2013 UTSA commencement ceremony. Courtesy of UTSA.
File photo from the 2013 UTSA commencement ceremony. Courtesy of UTSA.

Editor’s note: These prepared remarks have been republished with permission from UTSA President Ricardo Romo, who gave the State of the University Address Tuesday morning. This is not a transcript.

Thank you, Tom (Frost), for those kind remarks and for being such a great friend to UTSA. You have believed in the potential of this university from its very beginning.

UTSA President Ricardo Romo, Ph.D., and photographer. Photo by Al Rendon.
UTSA President Ricardo Romo, Ph.D. Photo by Al Rendon.

When I became president 15 years ago, you were on the committee that selected me. Today, you are still with us… now as one of the most influential leaders on our development board. Your passion and dedication are unequaled.

We all know just how much you love San Antonio, and how much you believe this wonderful city deserves a Tier One university.

You have done so much to help get us there, and your friendship means so much to me.

I also want to thank our special guests for joining us today.

And a special thank you to Provost Frederick, our vice presidents, our deans, Faculty Senate members, Staff Council, our faculty, staff and student leaders for being here today.

This year, it is also my pleasure to welcome to UTSA JoAnn Browning, the new dean of the College of Engineering. Dr. Browning is a widely acclaimed researcher and scholar. We brought Dr. Browning here from the University of Kansas because she is committed to excellence and the success of our students. She has an exceptional vision for the College of Engineering.

Though he is not with us today, I also want to welcome our new UT System chancellor, Admiral William McRaven. I am proud to say he is a San Antonio native. He knows our city and the needs of our university. We are grateful for his service to our country and I look forward to his leadership of the UT System.

I always enjoy giving the State of the University Address. It’s an occasion for us to look back on our accomplishments and to look ahead to new challenges and opportunities.

This is a very exciting time at UTSA. We are celebrating the 45th anniversary of the university. The Institute for Economic Development is celebrating its 35th anniversary. The Downtown Campus is marking its 17th year. And, this past May, we surpassed 100,000 graduates.

Imagine! More than 100,000 Roadrunners are changing the world.

Our reputation for excellence is growing. This year, the Center for World University Rankings placed UTSA among the top universities in the United States and the world.

For the third year in a row, Times Higher Education ranked UTSA among the world’s top 100 young universities.

Every day I brag about our latest accomplishments.

Last month in Washington, D.C., we celebrated the recognition of our cybersecurity program and the Small Business Development Center in the Institute of Economic Development.

Both of these programs are Number One in the United States. For cybersecurity, it is our first-ever top ranking for a UTSA academic program. Our Small Business Development Center, which competed with 1,000 other university programs, has been ranked the best several times.

These achievements are the result of years of exceptional service and commitment.

To achieve Tier One status, we must strive for continuous improvement. We must reach for the stars! I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

All of you are aware of the current debate about the value of a college education. Prominent journals and newspapers typically confront us with enticing headlines such as: “Is college worth the money?” The Economist asked recently: “Is college worth it?”

These headlines appeal to those who wonder if spending $200,000 for a four year degree makes sense. While these debates rage on, economists and other public policy leaders warn us that our continued economic prosperity will depend on a highly educated workforce.

We know, for example, that 66% of the new jobs in the next five years will require a college education. According to Forbes, more than 20% of open positions in today’s job market require or prefer graduate degrees. That is why higher education is so important to our state. Research also shows that college educated citizens are more likely to vote, have more stable family lives, and take better care of their health.

Our students are convinced that their education will pay off. Tuition at UTSA remains affordable at $8,200 a year compared to the national average of around $22,000. What I hear again and again is that our students are finding exciting opportunities in the workforce.

Just ask Micheal (Michael) Reski. Micheal took the skills he learned at UTSA to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. As deputy director of Red Team Assessment for the East Coast, Micheal “hacks” government computers to find the weak spots so the Navy can make its systems more secure.

Micheal has earned a reputation as the smartest guy on the team. His success is paving the way for other cybersecurity students at UTSA. Micheal’s supervisor says, “If you’ve got more, send ‘em.”

That is just what we are doing – not only in cybersecurity but in all of our colleges and disciplines. There are thousands of graduates like Micheal from UTSA.

It’s a great feeling to see our graduates so successful.

We want to continue producing outstanding graduates by bringing the very best students to UTSA.

But it is a competitive world out there. There are more than 60 universities advertising and competing in San Antonio for the very same students we want at UTSA.

We are determined to win this competition. One of the things that makes UTSA great is our ability to take challenges and turn them into opportunities. It shows our spirit. It’s how we do things.

UTSA's Spirit of San Antonio band plays during the "Bring It" River Rally for the NCAA Committee delegation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
UTSA’s Spirit of San Antonio band plays during the “Bring It” River Rally for the NCAA Committee delegation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

That is why we established a new merit scholarship focusing on the top 25% of high school graduating classes. This year, for the first time, we awarded more than $1 million of institutional funds as merit scholarships. Over 500 incoming freshmen were recruited to UTSA as merit scholars.

We have also expanded our recruiting efforts to attract top transfer students who do very well here. For the first time in UTSA history, we allocated institutional resources to provide merit scholarships for transfers.

And this is just the beginning. We are in daily conversations with our partners at Alamo Colleges to recruit students to continue their education at UTSA.

These efforts have already paid off. This fall, we welcomed nearly 5,000 freshmen to campus… one of the largest freshman classes in UTSA history!

UTSA is not only the best choice for top-tier students… it is their first choice. In fact, almost 58% of this year’s freshmen came from the top quartile of their high school graduating classes. This is a significant increase compared to 38% just five years ago.

All of these students have a passion for education. They want to be the very best. It is what they expect of themselves, and it is what they expect from their university. That is why achieving Tier One is so important. We must provide them with an exceptional educational experience.

I understand that college requirees hard work. I am in awe of all the students who study long hours at the John Peace Library or work in research labs during the day, then go home to study a few more hours before turning off the lights at
midnight. Others juggle school with work or family responsibilities. Fortunately our students are resilient and resourceful, and are able to balance classwork, their responsibilities and leisure time effectively.

All across the university, I see our students come together, work together and engage in community life on our campus. They spend hours in the Rec Center or on the new football and soccer fields. They are attending student organization meetings at the University Center. These are the places where students meet each other and begin lifelong friendships.

I have made some of those lifelong friendships here, too. One is them is your student government leader, Zack Dunn.

You can bet that Zack and I are good buddies. In the last legislative session when we needed students to lend their voice to policy decisions, Zack was there with me walking the halls of the state Capitol. I am also proud of Zack’s leadership role as Chair of the UT System Student Advisory Council. It is rare that a UTSA student government president is chosen to lead the 15 campus Council over more established campuses, such as UT Austin, M.D. Anderson, and Southwestern Medical School. Congratulations Zack on a job well done!

In our search for excellence, we expect nothing less than the best from one another. Academic excellence means exposing our students to new ideas, different points of view, and diverse communities. This summer I had a first-hand opportunity to witness a great example of learning and discovery. We know that students learn best when they engage in research and meaningful discussions. Harriett and I traveled to Belize in July to join Professors Jason Yeager and Kat Brown and their students at an archeological site. It was deep in the mountainous jungle near the southern border of Guatemala.

While we were there, these students were excavating a temple at one of their sites. Our research team discovered a tomb of one of the earliest Mayan leaders. It is one of the oldest Mayan tombs ever discovered and may date back to 50 years before the birth of Christ. This find was made at a site reserved only for UTSA scholars and students. Together, they were realizing the dream of discovery.

This is what top-tier students and faculty do. This is how they help us advance to Tier One. There are a lot of brilliant minds at UTSA. Some of them stand at the front of the classroom. Some of them are seated in the classroom.

We must give our students more opportunities to study abroad. They help us fulfill our mission of graduating students who are ready to be global citizens.

Over the coming year, you will be hearing more about efforts to expand our collaboration with Mexico and other Latin American countries, as we create these types of opportunities for our students and faculty.

Already, we are staking our flag throughout Latin America. The Institute for Economic Development is fully engaged there. It is helping to create more robust economies in Mexico, Central America and beyond.

And we have an even bolder vision for the future.

It’s for UTSA to be the leader in fostering collaboration in education, research and economic development with our counterparts in Latin America.

We’ll play a lead role in the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research — an initiative launched by President Obama and Mexican President Pen?a Nieto.

UTSA is strategically positioned – both from a cultural and geographic perspective – to serve as a gateway for our partners to the South.

On a regular basis we take stock of our progress toward Tier One. We do this for several reasons. If we don’t measure our progress or benchmark with our peers, we won’t know where we stand or how much we have advanced in our journey.

Three weeks ago I invited many of our exceptional faculty to share their thoughts on our research cluster areas. I heard exciting news about our progress in vaccine development, nanotechnology, big data, immigration studies, and more.

We also discussed our need to reach $100 million in annual research expenditures. That is a mark of a Tier One university.

We are currently at $50 million. My goal is to reach $75 million in the next five years, and $100 million soon after. Mauli Agrawal, our vice president for research, worked with our campus leaders and developed a research strategic plan to accomplish this.

We have come to a juncture in our journey. Our future demands an even greater commitment to research from all of us.

That is why today I am announcing the GoldStar Initiative, the next major step in our journey to Tier One status.

We are indeed reaching for the stars as part of this initiative. We are going to catch even more of the brightest researchers around and let them shine at UTSA.

Today, we are committing $40 million in institutional resources over the next four years to bring 60 additional world-class researchers to UTSA. This is beyond the recruitment of top-tier faculty that we do each year.

I am counting on the provost and deans to be major partners in this recruitment effort.

We will recruit even more of the best and brightest researchers to UTSA to drive innovation and develop technology. We will hire a combination of well-established researchers, and young researchers with great promise. They will light a passion for discovery and innovation in our students and help us build for the future.

In the first year alone, we will bring experts in strategic research areas such as advanced materials, open-cloud computing and cybersecurity, big data, biomedicine, social and educational transformation, and sustainable communities. These strengths are aligned with the strengths of San Antonio.

We will look to the UT System’s Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention program to help fund the recruitment of several of these exceptional researchers.

I consider these hires as some of the most crucial in our history. It will require fiscal sacrifice and discipline through the reallocation of our resources. But, I believe that the return on investment will be monumental.

If San Antonio is to remain a leader in a global economy, it must have the high caliber of research that we conduct at UTSA.

As new researchers come to campus, we will need more graduate students to work alongside them. Together, our graduate students and researchers will collaborate to solve problems and make new discoveries.

To fill this pipeline, we are committing to an expansion of both our Master’s and Doctoral programs. Our goal is to increase the number of Master’s students from 3,300 to 4,500 over the next three years.

We will increase the number of Ph.D. students from 750 to 900, and develop at least six new doctoral programs over the same period.

Growing these programs will require us to be highly creative and persuasive in our thinking about future graduate degrees.

A major part of this effort will be the integration of technology. There are campuses all across the nation enrolling and teaching the majority of their Master’s students online. This technology will be part of our vision, as well, as we create online Master’s programs to better meet the needs of our students.

Our agenda is an ambitious one. It will take all of us to do this. That includes one of our greatest partners, the community.

We are now entering the final year of our capital campaign. The goal is to raise $175 million. We are 89% of the way there. Tom Frost is once again stepping up to support UTSA by leading the campaign in this critical final year. I can think of no one better suited to bring us home. Thank you again, Tom, for being a lifelong champion of UTSA.

Our donor community is making a real difference. Just look at what we have achieved with their support.

Many of our state-of-the-art research labs have been built and are supported by research grants from private foundations and donors.

In recent years we have received generous funding from the Kleberg Foundation to support breakthrough research in nanotechnology; support from the Voelcker Fund to increase our knowledge and understanding of synthetic drugs; and grants from the Alvarez family to support graduate fellowships and research programs.

Over the last seven years, the Alvarez’s gifts have also provided grants to 268 students for their research and study abroad projects in Mexico, Belize, Chile, Bolivia, Italy and Spain.

Donors are also making it possible to attract the very best faculty to our university. Right now, we have 61 faculty endowments. Over the next few years, we want to bring that number up to at least 80.

We will also work to secure a significant number of new graduate fellowship endowments. These funds will be critical if we are going to expand the number of students seeking advanced degrees.

Just as important is our need to build on our public and private partnerships. We have very strong relationships with the City of San Antonio, the business community, Southwest Research Institute, the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and the military.

Assistant professor of pediatrics Greg Aune at work in his lab. Photo courtesy of the University of Texas Health Science Center.
Assistant professor of pediatrics Greg Aune at work in his lab. Photo courtesy of the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Whenever we visit one of our community partners, we are reminded of the benefits of collaboration. That was the case a few weeks ago when we visited our colleagues at Fort Sam Houston. Lieutenant General Perry Wiggins gave our team a tour of the post.

Of special interest to our deans was the excellent work of Army North in biomedical engineering and how to more effectively treat wounded warriors.

We met with many individuals who are making a difference in the care of our wounded service personnel. That includes UTSA graduate students in Biomedical Engineering, Psychology and Kinesiology. They are interning with the military, exploring innovative ways to assist our wounded soldiers.

We left Fort Sam understanding more about the enormous sacrifices of the military.

When we returned to campus, I reflected on our support for the military community. This year alone, UTSA will offer through the Hazlewood Act more than $10 million in tuition exemptions to the spouses and dependents of veterans.

This is one of the highest levels of assistance in the nation. It is this degree of support to veterans and their families that earned us our fifth consecutive award from Victory Media as one of the nation’s top Military Friendly Schools.

UTSA was selected for “doing the most to embrace military students and to dedicate resources to ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation.” At UTSA we have many offices and organizations working with our more than 3,000 veterans and their dependents.

As recognition of all that UTSA is doing for veterans, the Department of the Army presented me last month with its Outstanding Civilian Service medal. In my lifetime, I have not received a greater honor. It is meaningful for many reasons.

My dad enlisted in the Army after the Pearl Harbor attack and served his country in the Pacific Theater. He was proud of his Army training and credits the armed services for helping him develop leadership and organization skills.

I come from a family with a proud military tradition. Traditions are important.

Let me talk for a moment about UTSA traditions.

To me they’re just as important as academic excellence. Traditions link students, faculty, staff and alumni. They define what it means to be a Roadrunner.

With the start of football, we began several exciting new traditions. The new Rowdy icon originated with the football program. Our previous Rowdy was too nice and friendly looking. We needed a tougher, meaner looking Rowdy that would intimidate our opponents.

At the same time, we founded the Spirit of San Antonio, our marching band. This year SOSA has more than 220 members and their superb music and marching have also contributed to a greater sense of school spirit. This summer, our band traveled to Normandy, France to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. They were the only American collegiate band selected.

UTSA students have also found innovative opportunities to engage more fully in the college experience. For example, a few days before this fall’s school year began, students gathered at midnight to witness the inaugural orange and blue lighting of the monuments at the entrance of the campus. While I had proposed that we turn on the lights at 8 or 9 pm, the powerful voices of students lobbied for a midnight lighting. Joined by the SOSA band and some 1,500 students gathered in a very festive atmosphere, we started a brand new tradition — yes, at midnight.

Our students know how important tradition is. You see it in the colors they wear on game day. You feel it in the stands at the Alamodome and the Convocation Center. You hear it at halftime when the Spirit of San Antonio takes the field.

We spend Saturdays together at football games. We touch the water at Sombrilla Fountain to get good grades. We just brought Rowdy home, and the new tradition of rubbing his feet for luck was born.

Traditions are an important part of our 45-year history. Whether it’s a new tradition, discovery, idea, insight or invention… we make history every day.

And that is what keeps me motivated each and every day, knowing that UTSA is a great university.

Our faculty, our staff, our students, our alumni, and our community make it that way.

Our challenge now is to make it even greater. We have come a long way in the past 45 years…many victories, many milestones reached, many successes, and yet, we have so much more to accomplish together before we reach 50.

We need each of you to help move UTSA forward….to build that university of excellence that our students deserve and that our community needs…..

It’s been a great 45 years. And I truly believe that the BEST is yet to come. Thank you for all you do. Go ‘Runners.

*Featured/top image: File photo from the 2013 UTSA commencement ceremony. Courtesy of UTSA.

Related Stories:

Going Digital: UTSA Library Encourages Collaboration

UTSA Center Incubating Innovation

UTSA’s Cybersecurity Program Attracting Attention, Generating Jobs

Greehey Institute Receives $3.7 Million Cancer Grant

A&M-SA Celebrates Ferrier and New Building

For 23rd Year, Trinity University No. 1 in the West

Ricardo Romo

Outgoing UTSA President Ricardo Romo is a San Antonio native who grew up on the city's Westside, Romo graduated from Fox Tech High School before attending the University of Texas at Austin on a track scholarship....